Reprinted from the "Social Support" issue of Visions Journal, 2011, 6 (4), p. 4
A 9-1-1 paramedic I know told me about a visit he made to the home of an elderly woman. It turns out she had called because she had no one in her life and wanted someone to talk to and share a cup of tea with. Now, I’m not suggesting anyone use 9-1-1 like that, but is it any wonder that story of social isolation sticks in my mind? Or the story I heard recently of a gentleman in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who, though he had a single room of his own, still chose to sleep in a local homeless shelter because of the sense of community he had there. Do we really get it? Social support is absolutely fundamental to our well-being. And we need to talk about it much more than we do now.
The Public Health Agency of Canada lists social support second in its list of 12 ‘determinants of health’ (those bigger picture things beyond the health care system that impact our health). Now, I don’t know if that means it’s second in importance, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Having people—family, friends, neighbours, peers, whoever they are and whatever we call them—who care about us, support us and include us, well, there’s nothing more basic than that to mental health.
It was a privilege to work with and learn from our Guest Editor this issue: an economist, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a renowned researcher on the economic, personal and community benefits of social well-being. I first heard of John Helliwell when he spoke at a CMHA conference some years back. He made 300 people in suits sing the kindergarten song “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.” He was right back then. And he’s still right.
About the authorSarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association's BC Division. She also has personal experience with mental illness.